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The Hauser Report: Felix Verdejo Shines and Other Fights

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The recent deluge of fights on television has taken on the feel of an all-you-can-eat buffet. That means boxing fans are going to start making choices and become more selective in their viewing.

June 12 and 13 saw three telecasts of note. One on HBO, one on Showtime, and one on Spike. Let’s take a look at what viewers saw.

HBO featured four undefeated fighters in two match-ups from The Theater at Madison Square Garden: Felix Verdejo (17-0, 13 KOs) vs Ivan Najera (16-0, 8 KOs) and Nicholas Walters (25-0, 21 KOs) vs. Miguel Marriaga (20-0, 18 KOs).

Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler once noted, “There’s a difference between a learning-curve record and a padded record.”

Verdejo has the former. He’s a 22-year-old lightweight from San Juan, who Top Rank hopes will be its next Puerto Rican ring icon.

Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.

Najera was tough and game. He tried to turn the fight into a brawl. But Verdejo’s punches were too sharp and his defense too good.

Ivan got dropped by a left uppercut in round five and a left hook in round seven (lightning strikes that seemed to come out of nowhere). Each time, he got up fighting but his cause was hopeless.

Verdejo took the tenth round off and still won it on two of the judges’ scorecards en route to a 100-88, 100-88, 99-89 triumph. After the fight, he told his fans, “Continue to support me, and you will have Felix for a long time.”

That sounds like a good deal. Let’s see if his promise is fulfilled.

Nicholas Walters turned heads last October with a sixth-round knockout of Nonito Donaire, and was considered by some to be the best featherweight in the world. Miguel Marriaga was a largely unknown opponent from Colombia.

Walters-Marriaga disappointed.

For starters, Walters weighed in initially at 127.4 pounds, couldn’t get lower than 127, and was forced to vacate his 126-pound title.

Add to that the fact that a lot of the energy in the arena dissipated after Verdejo-Najera, giving Walters-Marriaga the feel of a walk-out bout.

Worse, Walters-Marriaga was a boring fight. Miguel fought cautiously, and Nicholas was content to outbox him. There were moments of heated engagement but certainly not enough. When it was done, Walters had outlanded Marriaga by a 279-to-165 margin and bested him 119-108, 118-109, 117-110 on the judges’ scorecards.

In the course of an hour, Walters went from must-see viewing to it all depends on what else is on TV tonight.

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WBC heavyweight beltholder Deontay Wilder (now 34-0, with 33 KOs) stepped up in his last fight and answered some questions about his ring skills with a unanimous-decision triumph over Bermane Stiverne. But Wilder’s performance against Eric Molina in Showtime’s main event on Saturday night left a lot to be desired.

Soft touches aren’t unheard of in heavyweight title matches. But few fighters less qualified than Molina have fought for a heavyweight belt. Team Wilder hyped the fact that it was bringing a “championship” fight to Deontay’s home state of Alabama. But Molina had as much chance of winning as Charleston Southern does when it journeys to Tuscaloosa to face the Crimson Tide on the gridiron. Yes, Eric had a 23-2 record. But he’d never beaten a quality opponent and had been knocked out twice in the first round.

Wilder was an 35-to-1 favorite. The conventional wisdom was that Molina (who weighed in at a blubbery 239 pounds) wouldn’t make it past the first round. Wilder knocked him down once in round four, twice in round five, and delivered a finishing right hand in round nine. But he looked sloppy and failed to impress.

In the opening bout, Jose Pedraza (now 20-0, 12 KOs) outclassed Andrey Klimov (19-12, 9 KOs) in a super-featherweight match-up by scores of 120-108, 120-108, 119-109.

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Spike’s June 12 telecast offered viewers one interesting fight and one awful one. Let’s start on the plus side.

Artur Beterbiev is a 30-year-old Russian now living in Canada, who’s making waves at 175 pounds. After a 300-fight amateur career, he turned pro in 2013 and scored eight knockouts in eight fights before facing Alexander Johnson on Friday night.

Johnson was a 50-to-1 underdog. Nothing on his record suggested that he would be competitive with Beterbiev, and he wasn’t. Artur put him on the canvas twice in round five; the first time with a short stiff jab that came from an awkward angle, and the second with a right uppercut. He also turned southpaw from time to time, which added to Alexander’s troubles.

Johnson fought largely to survive, which he did until round seven when a straight right to the temple ended matters.

Beterbiev is entertaining to watch and very good.

Beterbiev-Johnson was followed by Erislandy Lara (20-2-2, 12 KOs) vs Delvin Rodriguez (28-7-4, 16 KOs), which was a dreadful match-up.

Lara is a quality junior-middleweight. Rodriguez had won four of his last eleven fights dating back to 2008, which explained why Erislandy was a 40-to-1 favorite.

Lara-Rodriguez was a drab one-sided beating with no entertainment value. Lara had a 233-to-63 edge in punches landed and won 120-107 times 3 on the judges’ scorecards.

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While other fighters were in the spotlight this past weekend, local fan favorite Seanie Monaghan scored his twenty-fifth victory in twenty-five fights with a ninth-round stoppage of Fulgencio Zuniga in an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden.

Monaghan didn’t turn pro until age twenty-eight. Five years later, he’s ranked in the top-ten at 175 pounds by each of the four major sanctioning bodies. His best assets are a Spartan work ethic, iron resolve, and a good chin. His most significant liability is that he’s slow for a boxer. Speed and quickness can’t be taught.

Zuniga, age 37, turned pro in 2001 and now has a 27-11 (24 KOs) record. In recent years, he has become an opponent, losing to Gilberto Ramirez, Hassan N’Dam, James DeGale, Tavoris Cloud, Lucian Bute, Kelly Pavlik, and others.

Monaghan got hit more than he should have against Zuniga, particularly with left hooks up top. But he scored well to the body, moved inexorably forward, and willingly engaged in trench warfare. The end came at 2:10 of round nine, when Zuniga took a knee after one final body shot, signaling to referee Danny Schiavone that he’d had enough.

“I’m not the most polished boxer in the world,” Monaghan acknowledged afterward. “But I come to fight, I fight hard, I win my fights, and the fans have a good time.”

“Right now, we’re waiting for a title shot,” trainer Joe Higgins added. “The guy we have our eye on is [WBA beltholder] Juergen Braehmer [of Germany]. Sooner or later, Seanie will get his chance. When it comes, he’ll be as ready as he can be.”

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There’s a common-sense solution to the middleweight championship belt tangle that the WBC has created with its lust for sanctioning fees and multiple champions.

Miguel Cotto is the current WBC world middleweight champion by virtue of his having defeated Sergio Martinez last year. Gennady Golovkin is the organization’s “interim” world champion, taking that title from Marco Antonio Rubio on October 18, 2014.

The WBC keeps assuring Golovkin that, at some point, he’ll become Cotto’s mandatory challenger. The problem is that Miguel has no intention of fighting him. First, Cotto defended his title against Daniel Geale. Now a mega-fight against Canelo Alvarez is in the making.

Meanwhile, all sorts of nonsense is being bandied about. Golovkin, will (or will not) receive a step-aside payment to allow Cotto-Alvarez to proceed. The winner of that fight would agree to fight Gennady (or be stripped of his title).

Let’s get real. Alvarez is a junior-middleweight. So is Cotto. Miguel said as much the night he beat Geale, when he told a national television audience, “My weight yesterday was 153.6 pounds. I am not a middleweight.”

The solution is simple. Floyd Mayweather is the current WBC 154-pound champion. But Floyd and his opponent have both weighed under 147 pounds in his last three fights.

The WBC should relieve Mayweather of its 154-pound title. That would free up the bauble for Cotto and Alvarez, and make it palatable for Miguel to relinquish his 160-pound belt. That, in turn, would negate the need for any kind of step-aside payment to Golovkin and generate a large sanctioning fee for the WBC at 154-pounds.

The WBC might even make Mayweather some kind of special 154-pound champion, thus holding out the hope for an additional sanctioning fee the next time Floyd fights.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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